This part of Mr. Bush’s article deals primarily with the history of the tavern in Stockton, which began its life across the road from the Sharp-Lambert store (part one), but ended it as the Stockton Inn, at Bridge and Main Streets. (As usual, Mr. Bush’s article is in italics and my comments are not.)
Across the road from the distillery, on what is now the site of the Baptist Church, stood the first tavern opened in Stockton. Nobody knows when it was built or by whom. But there it was, venerable with age when the past century was young. Two of its keepers are known. Jeremiah Smith was there up to the time of building the present hotel, in 1833.
Please note that last sentence – “the building the present hotel, in 1833.” The present owners who are trying to sell the Inn and surrounding property are claiming the Stockton Inn dates back to 1710. As I have stated in other places, that is hogwash, and comes from a timeline history of the Inn prepared by its owners in 1983. The Stockton Inn is 185 years old, not 307 years old, but that seems early enough to merit a boast.
It surprises me that Mr. Bush did not know the origins of the tavern.1 The original tavern at Stockton was designed to accommodate travelers crossing from New Jersey to Pennsylvania and vice versa by way of Howell’s Ferry, which may have been up and running as early as 1710 (hence the date). The ferry was located at the end of today’s Ferry Street (of course), and was the originating point of County Route 523, otherwise known as Sergeantsville Road, which ran from Howell’s Ferry to Skunktown (Sergeantsville), Flemington, Mettler’s Tavern and Readington Township. Howell’s Tavern was closed after the second tavern was opened at the end of Bridge Street. More on that later.
I have seven Jeremiah Smiths in my database, dating from 1760 to 1826. The one mentioned by Bush who lived in Stockton is nearly as mysterious as John Loomis is (see part one). This particular Jeremiah Smith was born before 1800 and died in 1857. I have not identified his parents, nor the maiden name of his wife Nancy. They had ten children. He was an innkeeper and horse trader, and in the 1830s, Smith had a stable at the village of Headquarters. In 1831 he moved to Sergeantsville. I have not seen any evidence that Smith was running the tavern in its original location, but by 1833 he was running the new tavern at Centre Bridge/Stockton on behalf of its owner, Asher Johnson.
Between 1830 and 1849, Smith appeared frequently in the pages of the Hunterdon Gazette. This entry, dated March 10, 1847, I like the most:
“MR. EDITOR—Sir.—I beg leave through the columns of your paper to state to the public that the story now in circulation, about my getting Amos Hoppock drunk, and then winning his money, is not true, and I fear it has been circulated by persons, who, if to judge from their profession, we should expect better things than to circulate stories when they believe them to be a falsehood. The public will see by the following, from Mr. Hoppock that the story is false. [signed] JEREMIAH SMITH.
I do hereby certify that Jeremiah Smith has never won any money from me, nor have I lost any, and I would caution the public against believing it, as it is a falsehood. [signed] AMOS HOPPOCK.
Smith was briefly imprisoned for debt in 1836, but apparently that was not held against him. He became Postmaster of Sergeantsville in 1845, and got elected Chosen Freeholder the same year and in 1846. This raises the question of whether Smith was living in Sergeantsville or Stockton. At the time, Stockton was still a part of Delaware Township, and the post office in Sergeantsville, created in 1828, was the only one in the township. So it is quite possible that Smith carried on both jobs. Or else there were two Jeremiah Smiths in the same area at the same time. But despite my seven Jeremiah Smiths, I have no evidence of that. In the 1850 census for Delaware Township, Smith was identified as an innkeeper, which was the same thing as a tavernkeeper. He was 50 years old then, and owned no real estate. His wife Ann was 48. Their nine surviving children were Emma 20, Amelia 20, Horace 19 (no occupation), Tacy 18, Lucy 15, Asa 14, Mary J. 11, George H. 7, and Levi Augustus 4. Also in the same household were residents of the inn: Caroline Packard 23, Theodore Packard 8 months, John Forst 70, Jacob Agin 25 laborer, Jonathan Dilley 26 carpenter, and William Bloom 23 carpenter.
In the Cornell Map of 1851, the Stockton tavern was identified as “Smith’s Hotel,” even though he was not the owner. In 1853 the first post office was established there, and Smith was named the first postmaster. Returning to Mr. Bush’s article with George Hoppock:
Before him [Jeremiah Smith] came George Hoppock, great grandfather of Rev. Dr. Woolverton. Hoppock’s wife was the daughter of United States Senator John Lambert, who owned and occupied the Seabrook farm less than two miles away, and was in the Senate from 1809 to 1815. This shows our Reverend friend to be a great-great-grandson of Senator Lambert.2
Mr. Bush seems to be saying that George Hoppock was running Howell’s Tavern before Smith took over. Since the tavern belonged to Joseph Howell before it was purchased by Asher Johnson in 1827, I must conclude that Hoppock was operating the same way that Smith was—as an employee, not an owner. However, I do not know how Mr. Bush came to be aware of Hoppock as the tavern keeper at Howell’s Tavern.
George Hoppock was born on July 31, 1763 to Capt. Cornelius Hoppock and Catherine Corle. About 1789, he married Amy Lambert, daughter of Sen. John Lambert and Susannah Barber. They had three children, including William L. Hoppock, whose daughter Caroline M. Hoppock married Maurice Wolverton, father of Rev. Dr. William H. Wolverton.3 Regrettably, I do not have much more information on George Hoppock than this. He was around in 1795 when a petition was organized to move a road running from Route 523 to Mt. Airy northward.4 He died intestate in 1798, at the young age of 35, leaving his widow Amy with three small children.
One might easily feel a little pleased to count as his great-great-grandfather a Senator like John Lambert. But if anybody should try to show that my great-great-grandfather was a Senator like some of the later days, I should repel the aspersion by showing good reason to suspect that my great-grandfather—one step nearer—was a pirate.
I fear that many people today would also consider it an aspersion to be told they had a Senator for an ancestor. I did wonder what Senators were like in 1929 when Mr. Bush wrote this article. The 71st Congress ran from March 4, 1929 to March 4, 1931. Herbert Hoover was president, and both House and Senate were controlled by the Republicans. The Great Depression, which began on October 24, 1929, was still in its early days, but no doubt having a great impact on people’s lives. The Senators from New Jersey were Hamilton Fish Kean and Walter Evans Edge, who was replaced by David Baird, Jr. in Nov. 1929. Both Kean and Edge were popular figures in Hunterdon County and in the State of New Jersey. It is hard to see how Bush would have taken issue with them. But there were other Senators whose records were far less sterling, especially during the 1870s and 1880s. It would be nice to know more about the scandals that Mr. Bush had in mind. As for pirates among Mr. Bush’s ancestors, I have not identified his great grandfathers yet, but suspect he was exaggerating.
When The Railroad Came
The old tavern evidently went out of business in 1832 when what is now Colligan’s hotel was built by Asher Johnson. In 1849, Johnson foresaw danger. A railroad was coming through and he believed that would ruin his business. So he sold out to Mahlon Fisher who, three days later, sold to Aaron Van Syckle. Bartles and Van Syckle, who were doing considerable in real estate here then, are said to have enlarged it in 1850. It was soon after sold to Robert Sharp, who sold it to Sarah Hockenbury in 1874.
Most likely Asher Johnson thought a railroad passing through town would ruin his hotel business because he had been relying on people traveling by canal, who were more likely to stop at Stockton and stay overnight. People traveling by rail would be much less likely to do that. As it turned out, the railroad did no harm to the Inn. Johnson had guessed wrong.
The deed of [Asher] Johnson to [Mahlon] Fisher says: “Beginning at a corner in low water mark in the Delaware river where the road intersects said river at the old landing formerly known as Howell’s Ferry.” It conveys 53 acres of land, excepting 6 acres already sold for building lots and bridge purposes. This deed recites: “Being the same that was described in deed to Asher Johnson by Neal Harte, John Hoffman and James Fisher, commissioners appointed to sell it as part of the real estate of Martin Johnson, deceased, dated May 10, 1830 and being part of the premises before conveyed to George and Asher Johnson by the heirs of Joseph Howell.”5
Joseph Howell was the old-time ferryman who sold the ferry rights and the necessary lands to the Centre Bridge Company, January 16, 1813. Johnson, who sold out in fear of the railroad, bought a farm near Sergeantsville to be entirely free from railroad interference. This merely illustrates that one may easily be mistaken—yes, mistaken two ways at once—when he tries to judge the future results of some innovation. The railroads did not injure the taverns along their lines, but they did very much affect Eastern farmers in the days that were not very far ahead.
Martin Johnson lived near Raven Rock and owned the farm recently sold to Ella R. Emmons, a great grand-daughter. He also owned the big farm with buildings just across the road from him, and many others. Descendants have it that he raised a family of twelve sons and had a farm for every one of them He was the remote ancestor of numerous Johnsons now scattered far and wide.6
Jeremiah Smith, mentioned above, was the first postmaster in Stockton, the office by that name having been established in 1851, before which time the office was at Prallsville, now a part of Stockton.
Smith is known to have been the keeper of the present tavern in 1854, and it is known that he kept the post office there, but whether he was at the tavern or somewhere else when first appointed, cannot be determined. The tavern property, less than two acres now, instead of forty-seven as sold to Johnson, was sold by the executors of John S. Hockenbury to Enos Weiss in 1915, and by him to the present owner.
I am saving my comments on the new Stockton Inn for the postscript. As for the Stockton Post Office, there seems to be some confusion over exactly when the post office was established: Bush says 1851, but the list of U. S. postmasters says 1853. Whichever it was, it was the creation of a post office that caused the name of the village to change from Centre Bridge to Stockton, just as Skunktown was turned into Sergeantsville in 1828. The name was a tribute to Robert Field Stockton, who had been instrumental in the creation of the D&R Canal in 1834, and also the new Belvidere-Delaware Railroad, built from 1850 to 1851. Here is the rest of Mr. Bush’s article:
Some Other Industries
Other industries have sprung and died out close about the sites of those old liquor-dispensing establishments. In the early days of the Hockenbury ownership, large quantities of stone were quarried in the rear of the buildings by Peter Best, assisted by his son Jacob H., who has long lived in Virginia. The level area of the tavern lot was much increased by the careful quarrying, which kept the bottom smooth and even with the older surface. On that new surface, left as solid rock, have since sprung up about thirty trees, most of the button-tail species, some of which are now fully two feet in diameter, all supported by newly accumulated soil.
Samuel Wanamaker had a cigar factory just above the hotel property during the Civil War. Two of his employees are known to be still living: John D. Cox, who lives on a farm near Titusville, and whose son Charles now lives in Stockton; and Charles Slack, now living in Lambertville. During this period there was a marble yard on the lot now occupied by Lewis C. Wilson’s store house. This was built by Jack Dilts as a stable, later remodeled and fitted up for its present use about 1880, Richard Boss being the first merchant there.
Soon after the opening of the canal, about 1834, a building was erected on what is known as the Cemetery Lot, close along the Canal Company’s line. This was for storing grain to be later shipped by water. The railroad ended its use for that purpose. It was later used for general storage by William V. Case, lumberman, and by his successor, Rev. C. S. Conkling, for the same purpose. The building stood until the property was bought by Joseph Jones for a creamery site about thirty years ago.
Sharp Family Passes
The old tavern, the distillery and the axe factory are all things of the past. The name of Sharp, so prominent in the early days of the town and of the farming community, has become a matter of history. The last surviving Sharp of this lineage was William, the Stockton baker, who died in 1923. leaving no descendant. There are still many people who are more or less of the Sharp blood, but not one bearing the family name.
But there stands the Sentinel Oak, just as it evidently stood two hundred years ago. It may not be magnificent, but it is interesting and venerable. Three feet above the ground it measures more than twelve feet in circumference and spread widely from there to the ground. The massive trunk is now mostly shell only a few inches in thickness. Holes large enough to admit a big bear show the decaying interior. Evidences of misuse are plentiful. Hackings and a charred interior at the ground speak painfully of thoughtlessness on the part of those who should have cherished it as an invaluable landmark and hearer of pleasant memories from long-gone generations. It has seen many industries sprung up, flourish for a time and die. And yet, in spite of abuse, in spite of the winds which come sweeping down the river, carrying before them many of the younger and more vigorous of its kind, there it stands, a faithful sentinel over its special charge, still stretching out friendly though enfeebled arms, as though loving and still jealously guarding what is left for its declining years.
Postscript to the Stockton Inn
There is so much to say about the history of Colligan’s, now Stockton, Inn—more than I can realistically include here. So I will focus on the time period between Asher Johnson and the 1860s. But first, I must backtrack to the days of the original Howell’s Tavern.
The original owner of the property was John Reading, who is said to have given his daughter Mary and her new husband Daniel Howell a tract centered at Stockton of one square mile as a wedding present. No documentation of this, it’s just a local legend. Daniel Howell opened the ferry at the end of Ferry Street and also operated the nearby tavern that was always known as Howell’s Tavern. In the 18th century the Howell family was probably the most important one in this area. Try to imagine Stockton without all the activity on Bridge Street, but a lot of it around the now somnolent Ferry Street. Even Prallsville was pretty quiet in the 18th century, until John Prall took it over in 1792.
Joseph Howell was the grandson of Daniel and Mary Reading Howell. When he came of age in the early 1780s, he owned the portion of the one square mile belonging to his grandparents that included the ferry and the original tavern. In 1814, the new bridge across the Delaware River was built, putting the old ferry out of business, but apparently not the Tavern. However, Joseph Howell must have decided to seek his fortune elsewhere, since he was living in Pickaway County, Ohio with his wife Sarah (Sally) Rittenhouse when he died in 1821. As far as is known, the tavern continued in operation during his absence.
Settling the estate of Joseph Howell turned out to be very complicated. Because he had not written a will, the laws of intestacy applied, which meant his widow would receive a one-third share and the other two thirds would be divided equally between the children. Joseph and Sally had five children, but it seems that only three of them reached adulthood: Mary (1785-bef 1828, wife of Mathias Case), Benjamin (1794-1886, husband of Elizabeth Mathews) and Agnes (born about 1795, wife of Samuel Hunt). A series of deeds were recorded in which the three siblings worked out who got what share of the estate.
I will spare you that. To make a long story short, the tavern lot of three acres was separated off from a larger tract of 80 acres, and was sold to Samuel Hunt (husband of Agnes Howell) on February 2, 1827,7 and from him to Asher and George Johnson on Oct. 6, 1827.8 The remaining property had been reduced from 80 acres to 53 acres and included the location of today’s Stockton Inn. It was sold by the heirs of Joseph Howell to Martin Johnson on the same day as the tavern lot was sold to his sons Asher and George.9 Martin Johnson paid $2,000 for the 53 acres, while Asher and George Johnson paid $1,000 for the tavern lot. Only one year later, those 53 acres were owned by Asher and George, because Martin Johnson died in September 1828.
In 1832, construction began on the D&R Canal which came through Stockton in 1834. This no doubt was the deciding factor for Asher Johnson to abandon the location of the old tavern and build a new one at the end of Bridge Street, a street that was identified in deeds as the Centre Bridge Company Road.
Egbert Bush wrote that Asher Johnson sold the tavern or inn “out of fear of the railroad,” apparently thinking it would destroy the business. Turned out he was wrong. But the decision to sell was probably not all that difficult because he was not dependent on the tavern business. He was first of all a farmer and owned a good-sized farm in Delaware Township. And he had Jeremiah Smith to run the tavern. The purchaser was Mahlon Fisher, who bought it on March 27, 1849 for $5,000, which shows how much Johnson had improved the property.10
Mahlon Fisher, a builder who lived in Flemington, was not interested in the tavern either.11 Only three days after purchasing it, Fisher handed the property over to real estate investors Aaron Vansyckle and Charles Bartles for $4500.12 I was a little surprised at first that Fisher took a $500 loss, but the reason was that he excepted out of the 53.87-acre property a lot of 1.36 acres which was intended for a sawmill, something useful to a builder. That lot is visible on the Cornell Map shown earlier; “M. Fisher” across the road from the “Store.”
Ten years later, Bartles and Vansyckle divided off another small lot of 1.5 acres for Mahlon Fisher, who was then living in Williamsport, PA. It was right next to the sawmill lot. Only one month later, Fisher sold both of the small lots to Jacob C. Johnson of Stockton for a whopping $3,650, plus assumption of a $2,000 mortgage.13
As of March 30, 1849, Bartles & Vansyckel were owners of the Inn at Centre Bridge, soon to become known as Stockton. That situation continued until 1867, when Aaron Vansyckle sold the tavern lot to Robert Sharp. But I am going to stop here because I need to do more research on the period from 1867 to 1930. Next up will be “More History of the Stockton Inn.”
Addendum: I send out a newsletter every time I publish an article (you can subscribe by clicking on the box at the top of the page), and this time included some information about the Inn that seemed appropriate to add to this article. They are items pertaining to the tavern or inn at Centre Bridge (Stockton) taken from the Hunterdon Gazette, that shed some light on inn-keeping in the 19th century:
Please note that the abbreviation H.C. stands for Hunterdon County.
- I have written about this interesting place in previous posts: “A House Divided” and “Jacob’s Path, An 18th-Century Shortcut.” ↩
- Sen. John Lambert has been a favorite subject of mine, and I am not done with him. For previous articles about him, click on Lambert under “Families.” ↩
- For more information on William L. Hoppock, an important figure in Prallsville, see “Milling Industry at Prallsville Back of Year 1792.” ↩
- H. C. Road File #20-5-27. ↩
- The sale was ordered by the Orphans Court after two of Martin Johnson’s heirs, Hannah Black and husband James Black, petitioned the court to name commissioners to partition a tract of land that Johnson had purchased after having written his will. The commissioners determined that the land would suffer by being partitioned, so the court ordered it to be sold at public vendue, the proceeds to be divided among these heirs: children Hannah Johnson, wife of James Black; William Johnson; George Johnson, Asher Johnson; Sarah Johnson, wife of Joseph Heed; Asher B. Wolverton, son of Mary Johnson Wolverton dec’d. ↩
- Ella R. Johnson Emmons was a granddaughter of George Johnson and his second wife Mary Kugler, and great-granddaughter of Martin Johnson. She married Asher W. Emmons.↩
- H. C. Deed Book 41 p. 411. For more on ownership of Howell’s Tavern, see “Jacob’s Path.” ↩
- H. C. Deed Book 43 p. 255. ↩
- H. C. Deed Book 43 p. 253. ↩
- H. C. Deed Book 94 p. 30. ↩
- For more on Mahlon Fisher’s buildings, see The Fisher-Reading Mansion, describing the elegant home now owned by the County Chamber of Commerce and undergoing significant restoration. ↩
- H. C. Deed Book 94 p. 33. ↩
- H. C. Deed Book 120 p.496. ↩